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  1. ITV Report

Luxembourg's PM takes aim at absent Boris Johnson after he dodges press conference

  • Video report by ITV News Europe Correspondent James Mates

Luxembourg's prime minister has attacked Boris Johnson for the Brexit "nightmare" after his UK counterpart skipped a joint press conference amid noisy protesters waiting close-by.

Despite Mr Johnson avoiding the press conference, Xavier Bettel went ahead with it and took the chance to lay into the British PM, saying the Brexit impasse was a "home-made" problem.

But Mr Johnson, who decided to only give a statement to a small group of journalists assembled at the nearby residence of the British ambassador, insisted "we've got a good chance of a deal".

Explaining his absence, Mr Johnson said the press conference was cancelled over fears they would have been "drowned out" by pro-EU protesters.

"I don't think it would've been fair to the Prime Minister of Luxembourg," he said, "I think there was clearly going to be a lot of noise and I think our points might've been drowned out."

As Mr Johnson emerged from the ministry of state with Mr Bettel in Luxembourg City, protesters could be heard shouting "stop Brexit".

The PM's team did ask for the press conference to be moved inside so both leaders could be heard over protests, but Luxembourg rejected the idea.

The press conference came following a meeting between Mr Johnson's first meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Boris Johnson and Jean-Claude Juncker held talks in Luxembourg. Credit: AP

Following the meeting Mr Juncker said proposals to replace the Irish backstop "have not yet been made" by Mr Johnson.

The pair agreed Brexit talks "needed to intensify", but the PM also "reiterated that he would not request an extension" and would take the UK out of the EU on October 31, Downing Street said.

Luxembourg's PM went further, warning that EU citizens were facing mounting uncertainty due to Brexit while standing next to an empty podium after Mr Johnson pulled out of a joint appearance.

"You can't hold their future hostage for party political gains," Mr Bettel said.

He added: "I know that the UK Government is unhappy with the Withdrawal Agreement as it stands.

"That's why I thought it was important to speak to Prime Minister Johnson to get proposals.

"We need more than just words."

Gesturing to the empty podium where Mr Johnson should have been, Mr Bettel said: "Now it's on Mr Johnson - he holds the future of all UK citizens and every EU citizen living in the UK in his hands.

"It's his responsibility. Your people, our people, count on you - but the clock is ticking, use your time wisely."

The commission said the Government had still not made "legally operational solutions" to replace the controversial Irish backstop element of the Brexit divorce deal, which keeps the UK closely tied to EU rules in order to avoid a hard border.

Jean-Claude Juncker said he has yet to hear a solution from the UK. Credit: AP

In a statement, his spokesperson said: “President Juncker recalled that it is the UK's responsibility to come forward with legally operational solutions that are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement.

“President Juncker underlined the Commission's continued willingness and openness to examine whether such proposals meet the objectives of the backstop. Such proposals have not yet been made.

“The Commission will remain available to work 24/7. The October European Council will be an important milestone in the process. The EU27 remain united.”

President Juncker will travel to Strasbourg later today and will address the Plenary session of the European Parliament on Wednesday morning.

Mr Johnson told Mr Juncker he would not request an extension to Article 50 – the process of leaving the EU – and would take the UK out of the European Union on October 31.

He also “reconfirmed” his commitment to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and his determination to reach a deal with the backstop removed.

“The leaders agreed that the discussions needed to intensify and that meetings would soon take place on a daily basis,” Downing Street added.

Boris Johnson and Jean-Claude Juncker agreed to intensify talks. Credit: AP

“It was agreed that talks should also take place at a political level between Michel Barnier and the Brexit Secretary, and conversations would also continue between President Juncker and the Prime Minister.”

Both Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier were at the lunchtime meeting with the Prime Minister and Commission president.